Excitement and dealing with feedback

Chaos of my story

My awesome critique partner gave me a pile of suggestions for how I might shorten my manuscript. Here’s my plan for dealing with them.

If you get my monthly digest, you might know that I recently finished the fifth draft of my work in progress (WIP) and enlisted the help of my wonderful critique partner, Anna Kaling, to figure out how to cut 40k words.

Anna got back to me at 3am this morning, and all I could do before work was read her email in a whirlwind of excitement. (Don’t you hate it when real life gets in the way of writing?)

She had some very encouraging things to say, and she suggested some characters and plot threads that she found less than essential to the story.

I was thrilled by her reaction. Then her suggested excisions sank in.

But everything needs to be there!

That’s why I put it there. It’s all interwoven in an intricate, tangled, lopsided, deformed mess of tentacles.

Okay, maybe some parts don’t need to be there. In fact, I hope some parts don’t need to be there, because I need to cut a lot. I may have mentioned that.

I think the natural way to approach suggestions that you cut scenes you’ve spent hundreds of hours perfecting, after you stop screaming, is by arguing.

The shark-infested tornado needs to be there because otherwise the main character would never discover the dragons’ treasure.

I stop and take a deep breath.

I can feel my resistance to changing anything major, even when I know it will improve my story, and so I’ve come up with a strategy to evaluate the comments.

Step 1

Anna says, “you could cut X”.

I don’t think, “but X needs to stay”. (Okay, I probably do, but then I move on.)

Instead I ask, “supposing I was going to cut X, how would I do it? What else would I change so the rest would make sense?”

Somehow this bypasses my resistance. I’m not asking if I should cut X. I’m assuming I’m going to. The question is the best way to do it.

Without doing any editing, I pull at the threads, snip and reweave, and envision my story without X and everything that goes with it.

Let’s call this version B.

Step 2

A suggestion that something can be cut might not mean it should be cut. It might mean that I haven’t accomplished the purpose I was aiming at and need to add something.

Let’s consider X again.

Now I ask myself why it lived through five rounds of editing. What do I think its purpose is?

Is the same purpose served by something or someone else?

Does it have a worthy purpose that it fails to achieve?

Supposing I were going to beef it up to ensure it served its intended purpose, how would I do that?

I envision my story with this element enhanced and improved.

We’ll call this version C.

Step 3

Compare all the possible versions.

I lay side by side the existing version, version B with X removed, and version C with X enhanced, and ask which is best.

Not which is easiest, but which I would aim for if I were starting all over again.

If X is still there, am I certain its purpose is necessary?

The answer to this gives me a tentatively preferred course of action in relation to element X.

Step 4

I repeat this process for all the elements Anna suggested I could cut and look for interactions.

Perhaps if X goes then that changes the role for Y and makes it essential when it wasn’t before.

Or maybe if X goes then Y has to go too.

Hopefully an optimal set of choices will emerge from the murk.

Frog in the murk
Like this frog, my manuscript is green under all the dirt. Probably.

And this is my plan. I’ll let you know how it works.

I’m hoping I can hang on to my excitement and not get too daunted by yet another major structural edit.

I just have to remember how much better I’m making my story.

How do you approach suggestions of aspects of your story to cut? Any pitfalls you’d like to warn me about?

I will eventually publish my book. Get my updates so you’re sure to hear when I do and in the meantime stay entertained reading my blog posts.

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

22 thoughts on “Excitement and dealing with feedback”

  1. That’s a cute frog.

    Fortunately, everything I write is perfect, without a single spare word. So I don’t have to worry about all this “trimming” business.

  2. I think you need more mathematic formulas in this post šŸ˜€ Love it! It’s awesome reading about how your brain works. A lot of times in the writing process I don’t analyze why or what I’m doing, I just make it happen. So it’s awesome to see your play by play outline. Good luck!

    1. Haha, I cut down on the maths trying to make it readable. Next time I’ll leave the integrals in. šŸ˜‰

      I’m glad you find it interesting. I haevn’t tried it yet so I don’t know how well it will work, but I feel less daunted with a plan, and it’s less scary to think about the changes I would make if I were going to make changes than the changes I’m going to make. If you know what I mean.

  3. I know this terrible dilemma all too well. Faced with trying to cut a 275,000 word story down to something an agent would find acceptable, I made myself crazy trying to make cuts before settling at last on simply writing a new, much shorter book and hoping that maybe someday I’ll be well-known enough for people to swallow a 750-page brick. But seriously, get to the cutting so the rest of us can read your book! šŸ™‚

    1. My first book was 200k words, but it’s more of a total rewrite than a revision. I find the length thing frustrating because I like reading long books, but I do think I can make this book tighter if I cut some aspects. Getting to the cutting!

  4. Wow! 40k is a lot. I’ve never needed to trim my word count. I usually have to plump things up. Good luck with this! Use a sword. It’s more fun to chop things up with. šŸ™‚

    1. I *always* have to trim my word count. šŸ™ You can have my spare words if you like. You’re right, chopping things up with a sword is definitely more fun.

  5. “I just have to remember how much better Iā€™m making my story.”

    That bit there! It’s what keeps me coming back to it (I’m not counting editing rounds anymore, because I might cry). I love your method – I think I do something similar, although rather less logical. I just let the suggestions sit and percolate, until eventually something new grows up around it. Which is probably why the editing’s taking sooo looong.

    1. I’m sure at some point I’ll stop counting rounds too. I’d like to make it to thirteen first, though. šŸ˜‰

      My method may turn out to be very similar to yours, but I’m a logical person and I love a well-defined plan, even if I deviate dramatically from it.

      How is your editing coming along, anyway?

  6. *Basks in compliments*

    You forgot to tell everybody that I removed over seven words from your manuscript during my read. I think that achievement deserves recognition.

    In all seriousness, it was my pleasure! A+ would read again.

  7. I can find the courage to prune away the wild growth in my work if I put the cut bits somewhere where I can save them, at least until I’m really sure I don’t need them. I think of them as sewing scraps: at some point they may turn out to be useful in another project. Or perhaps a fictional crazy quilt. Wishing you grit and glory as you undertake your own trimming!

    1. Yes! This is definitely what keeps me sane in the cutting. Sometimes I wonder if the bits I cut will work as a short story. This time I’ll probably be able to construct a whole other novel out of them. šŸ™‚

  8. I think someone telling you to cut something is the hardest kind of feedback to receive. My books are so short that I rather get suggestions for adding scenes in order to make the plot clearer. No problem. Rewriting is also on the menu all the frigging time, but I’m happy to rewrite when I see that the scene kind of sucks. But cutting? Ouch. My early beta readers told me to kick an entire chapter from my last book and I was like “Noooooo, I like that chapter!”. I dutifully dropped it from the book, but because I’m stubborn I published it separately in my newsletter. Ha!

    My suggestion: save the cut-outs for later. If they don’t make it to the finished book and you still like them, you can always publish them as bonus material for your readers.

    1. Well, it was the feedback I wanted and needed, but it is hard to hear that a certain scene might not belong in your book. I plan to keep the bits I cut, but that’s a fun idea – I could edit them so they fit with the rest of the final book and release them separately as bonuses. At least, some of them. Some of them have to die.

  9. Oh god! If you knew how many scenes I had to get rid of and how many times I almost had a meltdown because of it!! Lol oh wait! That was yesterday! Lol

    I asked myself “is this scene vital”? What am I trying to show? Then, I know and then, I cry or drink a lot of wine to forget the anxiety!! Ahahah!!

    Critique partners are a wonderful way to cut to the chest faster. That’s great that you did this!

    1. Haha, I feel your pain! Getting an outside opinion was definitely helpful. Some aspects I thought I’d fixed are still problems, some aspects I hoped I could ignore I really can’t, and some things I hadn’t even considered need consideration. Wine is definitely going to be involved. šŸ™‚

  10. If while editing I find myself dropping my e-reader and shouting “I’m bored!”, then I realize that I found something that must be cut. I try to really pay attention to the places where I find my mind drifting as I read. I know I have more editing to do,and will let you know if I gain any more insights!

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